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Efforts To Secure Relief Continue

Published: March 26, 2020 11:25 am ET

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It is an understatement to say that everyone in Canada’s horse racing industry is dealing with significant issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Amongst others, the situation continues to be extremely fluid For Woodbine Entertainment, which is dealing with a myriad of challenging issues, according to CEO Jim Lawson.

Lawson recently took the time to discuss Woodbine’s – and the Ontario horse racing industry’s – challenges with the Toronto Sun.

All Standardbred racing in Canada has ceased for the time being. Woodbine has been forced to delay the start of its upcoming Thoroughbred meet. As for Woodbine Racetrack, specifically, it has to figure out tricky logistical issues in regard to the backstretch, which had been ramping up significantly for live racing.

Thoroughbred grooms and horsepeople, some of whom are just returning to the country, have been tasked with dealing with horses while social distancing and, in many cases, self-isolating in the Woodbine backstretch. Many reside in the backstretch dorms. The independently operated backstretch kitchen, which has fed Woodbine horsepeople for decades, is currently closed. The closure, in turn, sends hungry horsepeople out to the nearby businesses to find food, which runs contrary to what social distancing – and particularly self-isolating – calls for.

While speaking generally – in terms of finding some sort of footing for the Ontario racing industry during COVID-19 crisis – Lawson did his best to dash the long-running misconception that horse racing is a rich individual’s game. He explained that Woodbine is working with government in terms of a relief plan. That relief, as Lawson said, would bring stability to Ontario horsepeople that have devoted everything in their lives, no matter how little they may have, to the industry.

“There’s just no money right now and that’s the problem,” Lawson told the Toronto Sun. “We’re working with the government on a relief fund, but we’re putting so many grooms and hot walkers and everyone else out of work. And despite the perception that horse owners are wealthy, they really aren’t. There’s a very small handful of owners that are wealthy and the rest of them are hard-working people. And they can’t make this work without any sort of funding. And the longer this goes on, the bigger threat it is to this entire industry.”

Lawson’s 360-degree perspective of Ontario’s current racing landscape is why he and Woodbine Entertainment exhausted every effort to keep live racing continuing at Woodbine Mohawk Park and to keep the now-delayed Thoroughbred meet at Woodbine Racetrack on schedule.

“You ultimately have to be able to look in the mirror and say that people’s lives are more important than people’s livelihoods and that’s really hard for people to accept,” Lawson was quoted as saying. “You have to just try to do the right thing.

“I’ve got a very supportive board and I have to make these decisions and it’s terribly weighing,” continued Lawson, who fully understands the gravity of the situation. “The decision to close down Mohawk, it was like: ‘Wow, I understand the hardships that are going to be created here.’”

(With files from the Toronto Sun)

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